OAKLAND — Cassidy Charette, the 17-year-old Messalonskee High School student fatally injured in a hayride accident Saturday night, was a four-time honor student and regular contributor on the girls’ varsity soccer team.

Her boyfriend, 16-year-old Connor Garland, was a pitcher and first baseman for the high school baseball team and a member of the Central Maine Owls, a 15-and-under baseball team that won a state championship earlier this year.

The two had gone for a haunted hayride called “The Gauntlet” in Mechanic Falls on Saturday when the Jeep pulling a trailer filled with passengers lost control, hit a tree and overturned, sending 22 people to the hospital. Police described Garland as “seriously injured,” and he was listed in fair condition at Boston Children’s Hospital on Sunday. The accident has deeply impacted members of the school community and larger community, who have already begun to show their support for the families through social media and fundraising as well as thoughts and prayers.

“Our hearts, the hearts of the administrators, staff and community, go out to all the folks that were involved in this,” said Gary Smith, superintendent for Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18, on Sunday. “We’re with them and we grieve with them.”

Several Messalonskee girls’ soccer teammates of Cassidy Charette gathered at the pitch on Sunday for a brief moment of silence. Meanwhile, students and friends showed their support on social media with the phrase “Messalonskee Strong.”

The families of Cassidy Charette and Connor Garland declined to comment as did the family of another Messalonskee student who was also on the hayride and suffered less severe injuries.

Tom Bell, president of Central Maine Babe Ruth Baseball and Garland’s baseball coach for the last seven years, said he and his son, Sam Bell, saw the news of the hayride accident on the news Sunday morning but didn’t realize right away that anyone from the Oakland area had been on the ride.

“He’s been a key part of our team for the last few years,” said Bell of Garland. “It’s going to be difficult because his girlfriend was the one who died. They were down there together. We don’t know many details of what happened, but we do know he is down in Boston right now.”

Parents of the Central Maine Owls, the Babe Ruth team, have begun fundraising efforts to help support the family while they stay in Boston, said Bell, whose son is in the junior class along with Charette and Garland.

“We’re hoping for the best for Connor,” said Bell. “He’s going to have quite a recovery, and not just physically but because of the pain of losing his girlfriend.”

Sam Bell, who was playing two hockey games on Sunday and was checking his phone for updates on Garland’s condition in between, said he had planned to go visit his friend in the hospital, but right now only family are being allowed to visit.

A Facebook group called “Help the Garland Family! Messalonskee Strong!” that was providing updates on the accident on Sunday said that Garland was expected to undergo surgery on his jaw sometime in the next few days and that he had broken part of his back, but that the injuries were not life-threatening. The group, which had 220 members by around 6 p.m. Sunday, was also trying to raise money for the Garland family.

“I didn’t really know her on a personal level, but I know that she was really nice, smart and athletic,” said Sam Bell, 15, of Charette. “I definitely feel bad for him. I’m here for him and the families are in my prayers.”

The accident came just one day after members of the school community attended a funeral in memory of high school senior Nora Birch, who died by suicide on Sept. 30.

Classes are not being held on Monday because of the Columbus Day holiday, but the school will be open and counselors will be available from 9 a.m. to noon and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the high school library. Mental health professionals will also be available to students throughout the week, according to a letter that was sent to parents by Principal Jon Moody on Sunday. The letter also mentioned that local churches will be providing support to community members.

“I feel like it’s going to be like it was a week ago,” said Sam Bell. “I feel like it will be silent in the halls.”

On Sunday, members of the girls soccer team gathered for a brief moment on the field outside the school. Eunice Spooner, 76, a former elementary school teacher in Oakland and a school board member, said she heard about the hayride accident at her church in Waterville on Sunday. She came right to the school because she thought there might be a memorial.

“I couldn’t believe it when they said that we’d lost another Messalonskee student,” said Spooner. “How do you deal with this type of thing?”

On Monday the Messalonskee class of 2016 — which would have included Charette — had planned to have a “Project Graduation” fundraiser at the Red Barn Restaurant in Augusta. After checking with the family, the restaurant is still planning to hold the fundraiser and a manager said Sunday night that they will possibly host a candlelight vigil as well.

“We were obviously torn given the tragedy that just happened as to whether we should do it, and the overwhelming response was that it would be the best thing for everyone. We are hoping it will be a place for everyone to come together,” said Shane Benedict, manager for the Red Barn.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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